Peonies are stunning, fragrant spring-blooming plants that are nonwoody looking bushes, or woody trees, or a blend of both.
There is an old wives’ tale Peonies; A Love Affair: Once upon a time there was a beautiful “Peony” who met and fell in love with an Ant. Not really the stuff of fairytale’s now is it? But if you have ever watched the ants on the top of an unopened Peony flower you just know they are so in love and devoted to the bud, hence where the wise tale began. However, I have heard many people make the statement “you must have ants to have Peonies”. Well, they are wrong.
Ants are attracted to the sweet resin exuded on the flower buds, but it’s a long-standing, popular, even benevolent myth that they “tickle the buds” or “lick the sugar” to help the buds open. They would open regardless of the ants’ presence (these are the same ants that would benevolently tickle the food at the average picnic). Which means, they are not loyal to our beautiful “Peony” they just move on when she is out of her sugar! JERKS!
Above: You can see the ants on the unopened bud and a small bee on the open bloom. Now there is an insect you can depend on; the sweet honey bee.
Bees do love the single (picture above) and double peony (below) and their nectar.
Peonies are divided by flower types: Single and Double. However, there is a petal type called the “bomb double” (picture below) that does not produce pollen so the bees do not visit them, but they are so beautiful.
Peonies need at least 6 hours of sunlight to bloom. Something to remember is that peonies bloom in the spring when trees are still putting on their leaves, so when you pick a site to keep this in mind. Some of my Peonies get 8 hours and are the first to bloom, then others that probably get more like 5 hours of sun bloom a week later and then I have a smaller group that gets even less sun and blooms last and with fewer flowers.
Here is my big piece of advice….. pick your site now where you want to plant these beauties but don’t plant them till fall. I know it’s hard to wait, but you will end up with a much healthier and happier plant if you do.
Caring for your peonies is pretty simple. Remove seed heads after flowering is finished to allow the plant to store more energy for next year’s bloom. In the fall, after frost cut back the dead stems to the ground.
WARNING: Peony trimming should not be used in the compost pile.
Peonies are probably my FAVORITE garden bloomer. I love that they give me so many beautiful colors and that they smell so angelic. I always cut as many as I can to place around the entire house. When you cut peonies, pick the flowers in the soft bud stage. They should feel like soft marshmallows. Leave at least 3 leaves per stem on the plant. Recut the stems under warm water and strip off any leaves that would contact water in the vase. The flowers should open within a day of being placed in a vase. Because so many insects visit Peonies I go ahead and arrange them and then sit the vases in the garage for a bit for everyone including the ants to move on, that way those traitorous Ants are not running around my house looking to cheat on my beloved Peony!